Earthquake fear ends Dutch gas boom

September 26, 2018 by Charlotte Van Ouwerkerk
The Dutch government has said all gas extraction from Groningen will end by 2030

The Dutch are proud of the way they have created a country by fighting back the ocean—but when they started making their own earthquakes it proved a step too far.

The tiny village of Zeerijp in the northern Netherlands looks ordinary on the surface, yet closer inspection reveals cracks in homes, schools and historic buildings.

A series of quakes caused by extractions at Europe's biggest gas field in Groningen province culminated in a 3.4-magnitude tremor in January, the biggest for six years.

"Suddenly, I heard two huge noises, one after the other. Then it all began to shake," said farmer Bert-Jan Huizing, 50, describing how he was working with his forklift truck when the tremor struck.

Facing a wave of public anger over the threat to life and limb, the Dutch government announced that all gas extraction from Groningen will end by 2030.

It was a major blow to a project that has benefitted from billions of euros in state funding thanks to gas export contracts, particularly with France and Germany.

'Uninhabitable'

The earthquakes are said to result from huge air pockets left underground by extraction.

A large fence surrounds the Leermens extraction site near Zeerijp, where activity has now stopped, but locals can still feel the earth move sometimes.

Hundreds of activists recently spent the night in tents at the site to protest against the extractions.

Despite the announcement that the field will shut, more than 20 billion cubic metres of gas were still extracted this year. At its height in 2013, the figure was 53.9 billion cubic metres.

"2030 is still a long way off and we could have more earthquakes," warns Huizing.

The potato farmer, a father of four children, was working on the soil where his wife's ancestors have toiled for 250 years.

Tall and bald, a councillor and president of the local football club, he said his own home had only suffered "several cracks" but his worries were for the community.

He is leading a project for a new village school after experts deemed the old building unsafe. Prefab buildings were meanwhile set up to temporarily house people whose roofs threatened to fall in whenever the next quake struck.

But not everything can be saved. The only bar in the village, closed up and ringed by fences since the last earthquake, is threatened with demolition.

"It has suffered so much damage from earthquakes that it has been declared uninhabitable," says Huizing. "Everywhere here, there are buildings, houses and farms where people don't feel safe anymore."

Dealing with compensation claims is meanwhile a headache that is "beyond everyone", even parliament, he adds.

Together with dozens of his colleagues, he drove tractors into The Hague, the seat of the Dutch government, to plead the cause of animal breeders "facing leaks from their manure cellars".

"Everything is being destroyed—our cultural heritage, our farms, our churches, and even people," said Annemarie Heite, a 47-year-old farmer.

Hot potato

The Dutch government set up an independent commission in March to handle some 14,000 compensation demands.

But residents say that between expert reports, work orders and late payments, they are drowning in bureaucracy as different departments pass on this political .

Energy companies say all compensation will be paid.

"All the bills for damages linked to gas production will be paid," said Shell Netherlands, which has an equal stake with ExxonMobil in the NAM, the company which since 1963 has been drawing natural gas from the massive Groningen field.

Meanwhile the people who live there are tempted to rely on fate over bureaucracy.

"If I was being cynical, I'd say that we nearly want there to be another earthquake to move the process along," added Huizing.

Explore further: Dutch to shut EU's largest gas field over quake risk

Related Stories

Dutch to shut EU's largest gas field over quake risk

March 29, 2018

The Dutch government plans to rapidly cut production at Europe's biggest gas field after a raft of damaging earthquakes, aiming to eventually the shut the taps by 2030, top officials announced on Thursday.

Dutch urged to cut Groningen gas output by almost half

February 1, 2018

Dutch mine safety officials on Thursday urged the government to almost halve production at Europe's biggest gas field, amid increasing anger from residents over damaging earthquakes in the Groningen region.

Dutch turning off quake-zone gas for 200 firms

January 23, 2018

The Dutch government has ordered more than 200 of the country's biggest businesses to stop using gas from the quake-prone northern Groningen region, Europe's largest gasfield, officials confirmed Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Oceans of garbage prompt war on plastics

December 15, 2018

Faced with images of turtles smothered by plastic bags, beaches carpeted with garbage and islands of trash floating in the oceans, environmentalists say the world is waking up to the need to tackle plastic pollution at the ...

A damming trend

December 14, 2018

Hundreds of dams are being proposed for Mekong River basin in Southeast Asia. The negative social and environmental consequences—affecting everything from food security to the environment—greatly outweigh the positive ...

Data from Kilauea suggests the eruption was unprecedented

December 14, 2018

A very large team of researchers from multiple institutions in the U.S. has concluded that the Kilauea volcanic eruption that occurred over this past summer represented an unprecedented volcanic event. In their paper published ...

The long dry: global water supplies are shrinking

December 13, 2018

A global study has found a paradox: our water supplies are shrinking at the same time as climate change is generating more intense rain. And the culprit is the drying of soils, say researchers, pointing to a world where drought-like ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.